NUR-SULTAN (TCA) — Hundreds of Jordanian and Lebanese workers at a major oil and gas project in western Kazakhstan have been evacuated after a brawl broke out between foreign and local employees, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reported.
“Thank God they are all fine. They are in a security-guarded hotel. The [Kazakh] authorities there assured us that they had taken all precautions and that things calmed down,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a tweet on June 30.
Five of the 107 Jordanians working at the Tengiz oil field were “slightly injured,” according to the ministry’s press department. Jordan’s ambassador to Kazakhstan, Yousef Abdelghani, posed for photographs with the workers — some with facial bruises — at a hotel in the Caspian town of Atyrau.
About 150 citizens of Lebanon were evacuated from the oil field and are under Kazakh police protection, said Giskard el-Khoury, the country’s ambassador to Kazakhstan. The workers may be flown back to Lebanon, he said, according to Lebanese news outlets.
Videos and photos that circulated on social media on June 29 showed Tengiz oil-field workers punching and kicking co-workers and, in some cases, striking them with objects.
One worker told RFE/RL that the brawl was sparked by a photograph that was shared among foreign workers and was considered offensive by local Kazakh employees. El-Khoury confirmed a photo of a Lebanese worker with a female Kazakh colleague sparked the outrage.
Tensions at the site have also been rising due to discrepancies in working conditions.
Workers at the Tengiz field told RFE/RL they had to pay for mandatory training classes and could be fined or fired for showing up 15 minutes late. They have demanded employers end those practices as well as forbid Kazakh women from serving foreigners in the local canteen.
This is at least the second outbreak of fighting with foreign workers at the massive oil field over the past two decades. Kazakh workers brawled with Turkish employees at the site in October 2006.
Many of the workers appeared to be affiliated with a subcontractor at the site, Consolidated Contracting Engineering and Procurement S.A.L Offshore.
Tengizchevroil, the joint venture formed between Chevron, ExxonMobil, KazMunaiGaz and LUKoil to develop Tengiz, said in a statement that an “interpersonal conflict” occurred “which resulted in injuries to several employees.”
No further information was released.
The press service for the Atyrau region, where the project is located, said in a statement that 30 people had been treated for various injuries. The Atyrau city mayor’s office said that a top city official had met with workers, and that the situation had “stabilized.”
The Kazakh Interior Ministry said it had opened a criminal investigation into the situation.